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Lamar High School

HISD unveils new mascots

Here they are.

The cafeteria at Hamilton Middle School showcases a painting of a Native American in a feathered headdress. Students wear collared shirts with a similar symbol. They were, until Tuesday, the Hamilton Indians.

Now, with a new school district policy banning mascots deemed culturally offensive, the Houston Heights campus has adopted the Huskies as their symbol, as have the Westbury High School Rebels. The Lamar High Redskins become the Texans, and the Welch Middle School Warriors are now the Wolf Pack.

The mascot changes – including painting over old logos, buying new uniforms and replacing marquees – could cost the district an estimated $250,000, officials said.

Superintendent Terry Grier, who won school board approval for the stricter mascot policy in December, said the expense was worth it.

“For us here at HISD, while this day marks the end of an era and sends a message about nurturing our cultural diversity, we do understand the importance of tradition and history,” Grier said while unveiling the new mascots in the Hamilton school cafeteria.

Grier said he was troubled by the Lamar Redskins name shortly after arriving in Houston in 2009, but he didn’t push for a change until last year when state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Native American students and parents upped the pressure.

[…]

An HISD handout about the mascot changes said new uniforms for football and volleyball in the fall would cost about $50,000, while the four schools expected to spend more than $38,000 to replace logos on their campuses. Uniforms for all other sports could drive the total cost up to about $250,000 according to district spokeswoman Sheleah Reed.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I figure uniforms have to be replaced periodically anyway so the cost doesn’t bother me. Besides, this was simply The Right Thing To Do. I’m glad HISD got it done. Hair Balls has more.

HISD schools searching for new nicknames

Good luck to them.

The process of determining new school nicknames – a task that elicits passion from generations and has triggered countless “Are you serious” suggestions and even more heartfelt recommendations – is underway at four Houston ISD campuses.

Lamar and Westbury high schools and Hamilton and Welch middle schools had their previous nicknames banned by the HISD board earlier this month, and they are expected to finalize new nicknames by March.

“We’ve already talked with the student council and the students, and they’re very serious about this,” said Lamar Principal James McSwain, who has been flooded by suggestions for the new nickname. “They understand that we were the Redskins for 76 years, and at the end of 76 years, people feel very passionately.

“What you want is – after 76 more years – people to feel as passionately about the mascot that you choose as the one that we had.”

As you know, I’ve been following this issue closely. Some people are unhappy that HISD instituted this policy, and some people will be unhappy with the new names and mascots that get chosen. That’s life, and it won’t be long till it’s all forgotten. This was the right thing for HISD to do, and I hope the students and alumni of these schools view it as an opportunity.

On a related note, I commend you to read this fascinating story of the history of the Washington NFL team’s nickname, and the ongoing fight to get them to change it. One tidbit from the story stood out to me:

Students, parents, and Native Americans alike successfully argued for name changes in school districts and states across the country. A number of state boards of education have conducted a system-wide reviews of every Native American mascot in use in their schools. Miami University in Ohio, named after the Miami tribe, changed its name from Redskins to Redhawks in 1997. High schools across the country made similar changes, dumping “Redskins” and other names in favor of new monikers. In 2005, the NCAA passed a bylaw prohibiting schools from wearing any logo it deemed “hostile” or “abusive” toward Native Americans on uniforms during postseason play. Schools with such mascots wouldn’t be allowed to bring them to postseason games. As a result, the University of Illinois, with much consternation, dropped its iconic Chief Illiniwek mascot, who for years performed faux-Native dances at basketball and football games. Other schools followed.

In 1970, more than 3,000 high school, college, and professional sports teams had Native American nicknames or mascots. Today, fewer than 1,000 remain.

That’s a lot of progress in the last 40-some years. Still a ways to go, but substantial progress. I wouldn’t want to be the last school or the last school district to sport one of these offensive nicknames or mascots. Deal with it now and let someone else earn that dubious honor.

HISD gives final approval to revised mascot/nickname policy

That’s that.

Four HISD campuses will have to adopt new mascots after the school board gave final approval Thursday to a policy banning certain nicknames, such as the Redskins.

The proposal from Superintendent Terry Grier drew some debate among students, alumni and community members, but the change puts the school district in line with others nationwide that have retired mascots tied to Native Americans.

Specifically, the new Houston Independent School District policy bans nicknames deemed offensive or culturally insensitive. District leaders said the affected mascots are the Lamar High Redskins, the Westbury High Rebels, the Hamilton Middle School Indians and the Welch Middle School Warriors.

The school principals will have the next several months to work with the community to adopt new mascots, said HISD spokeswoman Tiffany Davila-Dunne. The school board will not have to sign off on the new names.

See here, here, and here for the background. The HISD board had tentatively approved the new policy in December. The vote for final approval was unanimous.

Earlier in the week, the Chron ran a couple of op-eds about the upcoming policy change. This one, by Carnegie Vanguard senior Maya Fontenot and Lamar alumnus Kenyon Weaver, who has been advocating this change since his high school days, deals with the usual arguments against the change.

A common refrain is that this is all political correctness, sprung on an unsuspecting HISD by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who, after meeting with a group of Native Americans, wrote a letter to Superintendent Terry Grier articulating their sincere concerns about the “Redskins.”

It is true that Ellis and Grier spotlighted this issue, but it is one that festered long before. The fact is that nationwide since the 1970s, an estimated two-thirds of schools with Native American iconography have adopted new mascots in recognition that such use is hurtful and a result of, as Stanford University’s Lois Amsterdam put it in 1972, “childish misrepresentations in games, history books and motion pictures.” (Stanford stopped using the “Indian” mascot in 1972.)

Calling this effort “PC,” or politically correct, is, in fact, the true problem. Such a posture closes the mind and the heart.

This posture leads to conversations such as: “So, what’s the big deal? It’s a small population, few Native Americans actually attend HISD, and many don’t see the term as offensive if they’re turning it into a positive word. In fact it’s honoring indigenous people. Natives are just being oversensitive.” Objecting when a public educational institution reduces an entire race of people and their traditions into a caricature used in sports, we don’t think that’s overly sensitive.

The next argument that often comes: “Where do you draw the line? If you cannot have Native Americans as mascots – what’s next, banning the use of animals too?” Ending offensive symbolism and respecting human cultures and communities is not a slippery slope that results in nonsensical rules that cross over to the animal kingdom.

Chron editorial board member Evan Mintz followed up with a point that’s worth remembering from his high school experience.

About two decades ago, my own alma mater, St. John’s School, had a similar tussle over its mascot name: The Rebels. Apparently some people didn’t like a mascot that implied we sympathized with folks who thought it a tragedy that the North won the Civil War..

The school first tried a rhetorical switch. Instead of Rebels with Confederate flags and a Johnny Reb mascot, we became Rebels as in the James Dean movie, “Rebel Without A Cause,” with a greasy-headed delinquent in a leather jacket. It was a clever trick, but not clever enough. So in 2004, after much stress, we just became the Mavericks. All the synonymous definition of Rebel, without any of the historical baggage.

Now, 10 years later, no one really seems to care. That’s the lesson: Alumni will get over it. Teenagers will identify with whatever a cheerleader yells at them. And high schools only have an institutional memory of four years.

He also has some suggestions for the four affected schools:

Be interesting. You’re losing mascots that not only fail to unite a community, but could be found at any school across our nation. Pursue something that is a unique identifier for your school or be stuck with another bland moniker.

Lamar High School, down the street from the River Oaks Country Club, could embrace its oil-money neighborhood and become the Oil Barons or Wildcatters. How about the Lamar Oilers for some Houston nostalgia?

Westbury High School, with its automotive technology programs, could become the Sparkplugs, Hot Rods or Roadsters.

Hamilton Middle School, situated between Yale and Harvard at the northern end of Heights Boulevard, could be the Ivies or the Streetcars. The school could even look to its robotics program and become the Jaegers. Giant fighting robots? Now that’s something middle school students can cheer.

And Welch Middle School should simply bask in the stardom of its most famous graduate and become the Beyoncés. Flawless.

My alma mater has followed that path – its mascot is “Pegleg Pete”, in honor of our namesake – though many of our sports teams go their own way on nicknames. Students and alumni at Lamar et al might consider that option as well.

HISD approves change to nickname and mascot policy

Good.

Three schools in the Houston Independent School District are likely to have new mascots that no longer reflect a connection to Native American culture or history after preliminary board approval Thursday night of a policy proposed by Superintendent Terry Grier.

A fourth school, Westbury High, could be required to no longer use Rebel, even though connections to the Confederacy were dropped more than two decades ago.

Trustees gave a tentative OK to do away with the Lamar High School Redskins, Hamilton Middle School Indians and Welch Middle School Warriors. After the meeting, Grier said teams that have generic nicknames such as Warriors could potentially keep the name if any affinity with Native Americans was dropped.

The new mascot policy was approved unanimously by the board after an at-times emotional session of public comment. The approval is tentative because it came after the measure’s first reading. To be implemented, it must be given a second reading and again receive a majority vote. Measures are rarely reversed if passed on the first reading.

About 20 speakers gave brief statements, roughly equally divided between those favoring and opposed to the proposed change. Most of those opposed to the mascot change had connections to Lamar High School.

“You should be spending your money, time and attention not on changing mascots but on educational matters,” said Joe Koch, a 1968 Lamar graduate. “These names were not meant to be offensive. They were meant as a rallying cry to bring students together.”

Several Native American speakers said the names and symbols could be seen as hurtful regardless of the intent of those who first adopted them or still use them.

“I am a human being — I am not a mascot,” said Steve Melendez, a Native American activist.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no real sympathy for the argument that HISD is spending too much time on this, where “too much time” really means “any time at all”. The announcement that HISD was considering this matter came less than a week before the meeting where this vote was held. Even if you go all the way back to the Randy Harvey column that likely served as a catalyst for this, we’re talking a bit more than a month. There shouldn’t need to be any further action from Superintendent Grier or the Board of Trustees going forward – basically, this mandate affects at most three schools, and once they comply that’s pretty much it. Down the road, any new school built in HISD will also have to comply with this new regulation. It’s hardly a strain on anyone’s capabilities, and it was the right thing to do. In a year’s time no one will remember what the fuss was about.

Grier editorializes for HISD policy change on school mascots and nicknames

Here’s HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s op-ed in the Chron about the likely forthcoming change in HISD policy on school mascots and nicknames.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

HISD must retire, respectfully, school symbols that no longer reflect the values of who we are – proudly diverse, inclusive, forward-thinking and committed to instilling character and social awareness in our youngsters.

The Lamar Redskins, Hamilton Indians, Welch Warriors and Westbury Rebels must become a part of HISD’s history.

Steps are being taken to craft a new district policy that will allow schools to acknowledge the important traditions of these symbols to each of their communities, but that will make sure new mascots are in place by the start of the 2014-15 school year. HISD is working with principals at these schools, and we are looking to the Board of Education to adopt an unequivocal new policy at its next meeting on Thursday.

We applaud state Sen. Rodney Ellis and the Anti-Defamation League for championing this issue. Our duty is to be sensitive to the deep passions on both sides at each campus – working to balance the historic significance of these mascots to many with the negative, hurtful and sometimes embarrassed reactions they engender in many others.

[…]

Lamar, Westbury, Welch and Hamilton should be defined and measured by their notable student successes – not bogged down by questions about their school mascots.

Our goal in HISD is not to obliterate all vestiges of traditional figures that were once widely embraced. That is an important part of each school’s cultural and historic literacy. But the place for Redskins patches or pennants, or for Confederate symbols is no longer on the uniforms of our teams and cheer squads. They can be displayed in cases on campuses and explained in history books.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have much to add to this, just that I agree with it and am glad to see it. To anyone who might be thinking that HISD has better things to do than to enact policies like this, I’ll just note that if they do wait around until they have no more pressing business as defined by some people to deal with, they might find that an awfully long time has passed and these embarrassing anachronisms are still on the books. Better to deal with it now – it’s not like it’s going to derail or needlessly delay any other business – and know that it’s one less injustice waiting around to be recognized for what it is.

HISD to take action on “Redskins” nickname

Good for them.

Houston school district officials, plunging into a national controversy, are considering a policy change that would ban mascot names that might play on racial, ethnic or cultural stereotypes.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier is expected to propose a new policy that would require changing the mascots of the Lamar High School Redskins, Hamilton Middle School Indians, Welch Middle School Warriors and Westbury High School Rebels.

Specifically, the proposal would prohibit the use of “any race or ethnic group” as a mascot, nickname or descriptor of any Houston school. Officials said the mascots of Lamar, Hamilton, Welch and Westbury would fall outside the policy.

The issue is scheduled for discussion Monday at a school board review meeting. The board could vote on the change at its regular meeting on Thursday. The new mascots would be in place for the 2014-15 school year, and initial discussions of the transition have begun.

[…]

“The time has come for the Houston Independent School District – the most vibrantly diverse school district in the nation – to acknowledge that some decisions made generations ago need to be reconsidered,” [Superintendent Terry] Grier wrote. “Traditions are important. But respect for cultural difference and sensitivities matters more.”

Anna Eastman, the school board president, said the board does not intend to dictate mascot names, but to set guidelines.

The new policy would bar names with inappropriate connotations, Eastman said, adding that it is up to school district administrators to determine which mascots need replacing. Local groups at the schools will then select new mascots where needed.

Eastman said she expects some public comment on the policy change.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. I know that people feel strongly about mascots and school colors,” she said. “I wish we would see the same level of passion to the fact that we have kids who can’t read.”

Good to hear, and I couldn’t agree more with Anna Eastman. Honestly, if anyone gets more than a little upset about this, they need to rethink their priorities.

As the story notes, earlier this week Sen. Rodney Ellis wrote an open letter to Grier asking for something to be done.

On Tuesday, State Senator Rodney Ellis tweeted out a letter he sent to HISD Superintendent, Dr. Terry Grier (view the tweet here). In the letter, Ellis requested the district start a process to change Lamar’s mascot (Redskins) and any other derogatory mascots in HISD.

“I recently met with local Native American leaders, all of whom expressed sincere concern about the use of Lamar’s inflammatory manscot name,” the letter reads.

In an October column by Randy Harvey (click here for the column), Lamar school officials acknowledged the nickname was wrong by disassociating the school from virtually everything about it except the nickname itself.

The actual mascot was eliminated. Any new teams, groups or awards are known simply as Lamar. Drill team members are called Rangerettes.

“I know that the leadership of HISD and Lamar High School do not intend to offend anyone with the mascot’s name, but, simply put, times change,” the letter reads.

As noted, you can see his letter, which is quite congenial, here. I of course agree with him, as does the Chron editorial board, and I applaud him for taking this step. I don’t know if this had a direct effect on the subsequent actions by Grier and the board or not, but either way it’s encouraging.

By the way, I saw this in the Chron’s Sports Update blog, which was their Rice Owls blog when I first subscribed to it. Somewhere along the line, the blog morphed into a catchall sports section news blog, and the feed was redirected. I personally think this story belongs in their Metro section, or at least in the Houston Politics blog, but at least it was somewhere. I’m glad for that little bit of serendipity that allowed me to see it, since I would not have subscribed to that feed on my own.

One last thing from yesterday’s story:

“I’m not sure a change is really necessary,” said Frank Staats, a 1975 Westbury graduate and vice president of the school’s alumni association.

Images of the school’s Rebel mascot have been changed to make any connection to the Civil War barely noticeable, Staats said.

[…]

At Lamar, which his daughter attends, Staats said he understands the name is a greater concern. However, “it doesn’t bother the kids, from what I know,” he said.

Staats said in 20 years of alumni participation, he’s never heard a complaint about the Westbury Rebel name from students or alumni.

I suspect that’s because most people don’t really think much about it. If that is the case, then hopefully people will be equally indifferent about the proposed changes.

We shouldn’t have any teams called the “Redskins”

What Steve Harvey says.

It is time for the Lamar High School Redskins to change their nickname.

It actually is past time.

A good time would have been 15 years ago. According to a 1999 article in the Houston Press, Kenyon Weaver, a Lamar senior, began a campaign the year before to change the nickname.

His impetus was a vacation he took the previous summer to Santa Fe, N.M. When he started to don his Redskins sweatshirt, his mother, a University of Houston professor, counseled him against it, warning him the name would offend many of the city’s American Indian residents.

Upon returning to school, Weaver used his position as a member of the Lamar student senate to place a referendum before students.

“The only decent thing to do – the only worthy cause – was the Lamar Redskins,” Weaver told the Press.

After heated debate, students overwhelmingly voted to remain Redskins, although Weaver said his effort was sabotaged by school officials when students were told they would have to pay for the expense of changing the lo

[…]

To an extent, Lamar officials have acknowledged the nickname is wrong by disassociating the school from virtually everything about it except the nickname itself.

There is little evidence at Lamar that the school mascot remains Redskins, starting with the elimination of the mascot. It was a big-toothed, big-nosed, diaper-clad artificial statue called Big Red that was trotted out at sports events.

Any new teams, groups or awards will be known simply as Lamar. Drill team members are known as Rangerettes.

Give the school credit for doing a lot to right its wrong. But it hasn’t done as much as some. According to Capital News Service, 62 high schools in 22 states are known as Redskins while 28 high schools in 18 states dropped the nickname within the last 25 years.

Principal James McSwain, who was in the same role when Kenyon Weaver was a student, said recently if Lamar were a new school choosing a nickname that it wouldn’t be Redskins.

So why not take the obvious next step and officially drop the nickname? There’s no dispute that it’s offensive. The school isn’t using it anyway. I’m sure there will be some fuss among alumni if this were to be proposed, but I’m not saying the historical record needs to be rewritten. Past teams that won memorable games as the “Lamar Redskins” can and should remain such. But going forward, the path is clear. If the school hasn’t been using the nickname anyway in recent years, I doubt the current students will care very much. Just put out a statement saying that Lamar High School will no longer employ the nickname “Redskins” and be done with it. If the principal won’t do it, then HISD ought to consider getting involved, as surely this is not in line with the district’s non-discrimination policies. This should not be a dilemma for anyone. Just do what’s right.